GENERATION X FINDS A VOICE FOR ADS

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The younger generation is finally making itself heard-in the world of advertising voice-overs.

The 44 million 19-to-30-year-olds in the U.S.-so-called Generation X-had $125 billion to spend last year, according to Yankelovich Partners, Norwalk, Conn. And with this kind of spending power, Generation X probably deserves to have some of its own hawking products.

And with that many dollars at stake, it would seem a wise move for marketers, too.

"For the last year, the young, hip type of sound has been dominating what we do," said Linda Ferrar, manager of casting at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York. "You're trying to appeal to the young, and they're not going to listen to someone who sounds like their parents."

Advertisers are just waking up to the needs and tastes of this group, who is of the age when brand attitudes are formed, said Yankelovich Project Director Rex Briggs.

Voice-overs may have a special role in shaping young consumers. Marie Pappalardo, casting coordinator at BBDO Worldwide, said a voice-more than an image-sells a product and drives the theme home.

The youthful focus has sparked a new crop of voice-over professionals. One of them is Jeff Bottoms, 25, who during his 11/2 years in the business has done work for Doritos, ESPN 2, Kodak and Trix cereal.

Mr. Bottoms said his voices range from "crazy teen-agers to sophisticated and older," but his edgy, young intonations are highest in demand. Despite the widespread use of the sound, he believes enough diversity in commercials exists to keep many voice-over types working.

"There seems to be sort of a shying away from classic announcers," Mr. Bottoms said. "They're trying to buy kids with the young, hip, cool sort of stuff. But there'll always be classical announcers and cool teen-ager announcers-they'll never disappear."

Working in voice-overs can mean big bucks. Top professionals reportedly earn between $100,000 and $1 million a year.

Others finding success with the young sound include Rafael Ferrer, whom Ms. Pappalardo called "the voice of MTV," and Colter Rule, who does voice-overs for New York Lotto commercials.

More than sounding youthful, voice-over professionals have to sell a reckless and rebellious attitude, said Sandra Marx, a partner at talent agency Schifferman Eckman Morrison & Marx.

But Robbi Auftin, senior VP-senior creative director at FCB/Leber Katz Partners, doesn't think a grand movement to appeal specifically to Generation X does or should exist.

Instead, he sees an appeal to the mood of the generation-cynicism-which he said is systemic in society today.

"The voice-over is the voice of the product," Mr. Auftin said. "In the past, it has been the voice of God or authority; now, it's toward authenticity. What you want is an honest quality."

This is the next wave, said John Beach, 35, who has been the voice of Burger King, Crystal Light and Subaru. In his 10 years in voice-overs, Mr. Beach has witnessed the death of the booming announcer and the birth of the "damaged teen." But he said honesty is here to stay-at least for now.

"You don't hear announcers anymore," Mr. Beach said. "A while back, all the announcers had to learn not to sell the product. They tell you to sound like a normal guy."

No matter what the approach, Ms. Ferrar said, what makes a quality voice-over always remains the same.

"You're looking for someone who can convey your idea and make the images in your head without really seeing it," she said. "When you just listen to a voice, the voice has got to color it with just a voice."

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